David Clive Jenkinswas born on 2 May 1926 at Port Talbot in south Wales. Having left school at the age of fourteen to work in a metallurgical test house, he became a furnace shift supervisor at 16 and was in charge of a laboratory at 17. This growing ambition led him to attend evening classes in metallurgy at Swansea Technical College. Then, in 1945, he became nightshift manager at the Eaglebush Tinplate Works in Neath. This also led to becoming the branch secretary and area treasurer of the Association of Scientific Workers (AScW) in the following year.
It is virtually certain that he joined the Young Communist League around this time, although he did not join the Communist Party until probably 1949 (though some sources say 1950), enabling him later to diminish the degree to which he had been involved in British Communism. (His obituary claimed he only spent four years in the Party but if this were combined with the YCL, this would make it nine years in all as a Communist– in his most formative years at that – from the age of nineteen to twenty-eight. Jenkins was by no means the only prominent person to conflate or ignore YCL membership when being accused of longevity in terms of Communist membership!)
Whilst working at the Eaglebush Works, Jenkins impressed Harry Knight, general secretary of the Association of Supervisory Staffs, Executives and Technicians. ASSET), oddly, a Communist- dominated union, indeed, a union practical founded and nurtured by Communists, which specialised in recruiting scientific professionals.
In 1946 at the age of 20, he moved to Birmingham to become the union's assistant Midlands divisional officer. It was a very junior position but then he was very young, albeit heavily precocious.
Jenkins was a delegate from his union to the 1947 World Youth Festival in Prague, which was organised by the Communist-dominated World Federation of Democratic Youth. His first wife, Jean, was an American Communist who settled in Britain and was prominent in organising solidarity with Paul Robeson in the early 1950s.
By about 1949, he was appointed the union’s Transport Industrial Officer, not formally a national officer’s role, which necessitated a move to London, where he probably joined the Communist Party, as well as the YCL, now being 23 years old.
He appears to have taken over from an official at AScW’s office in Park Street, Mayfair, called Sanders. Jenkins later wrote of him (as contentiously as he did of all things): “He was a long time Communist Party member, as was quite common in white collar unions – no one else was willing to do the work or believed in it.” Saunders had the responsibility of trying to organise the newly emerging airlines. ASSET had only about 700 members throughout British Airline Corporation at the start of the 1950s but Jenkins set to work on building this up and amazed everyone with the stunning success he had in recruitment and organisation of new members.
In 1953, he was surely still associated with the Party and YCL when he attended the 1953 Bucharest World Youth Festival. Cold war hostility to the World Youth Festivals was at its height in this period. It seems likely that he maintained membership of the YCL whilst also, from 1945, discreetly holding a Labour Party card.
At any rate, he rather publicly broke with the Communist Party in 1954, also the year he was promoted to become a national officer of ASSET, but mainly perhaps because he was offered a safe Labour council seat, which he held until 1960. He also left his first wife, also a Communist, at this time.
Having left the Communists, he was now closely associated with Ian Mikardo and various Bevanites, and the left in Labour for the rest of his career. Early on in this he displayed interest in becoming an MP, standing for selection as a parliamentary candidate in 1964 and 1966.
Having been appointed ASSET deputy general secretary in 1957, he became general secretary in 1961, then joint general secretary of the newly-formed Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs (ASTMS) in 1968-9 and general secretary in 1970, making him largely the voice for 1960s white collar trades unionism. Perhaps because he could now see political influence opening up to him as a union “boss” (it was not a label that embarrassed Jenkins), his personal political ambitions now receeded.
Between 1988 and 1989 he was joint general secretary of Manufacturing, Science, Finance (MSF), the union formed by the amalgamation of ASTMS and TASS.
He died on 22 Sep 1999 at Bushey, Hertfordshire.